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Doctoral Degrees Rise Largely Due to Foreign Student Increases

November 30, 2005

The number of doctoral degrees awarded by universities in the United States increased by 3.4 percent in 2004, representing the highest number of doctoral degrees awarded since 1998.  According to the 38th Annual Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2004 marks the second consecutive year of growth; between 2000 and 2002, the number of degrees awarded continually declined.  Foreign students continue to account for the majority of the growth. In 1974, non-U.S. citizens with temporary visas comprised 11 percent of all doctoral recipients, by 2004, this percentage has risen to 29 percent.  During the same 30 years, the number of U.S. citizens earning doctorates has remained unchanged.

Other findings in 2004 include:

  • The greatest number of doctorates awarded was in life sciences, followed by social sciences.

  • The People’s Republic of China represented the country of origin for the largest number of doctorates awarded to non-U.S. citizens.

  • U.S. racial/ethnic minorities earned 20 percent of all doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens, the largest percentage in the history of the study.

  • The University of California-Berkeley awarded the largest number of doctorates (769), followed by the University of Texas-Austin (702).

  • Half of the doctorate recipients completed their degrees with no educational (undergraduate and graduate) debt.


The report is sponsored by six federal agencies: the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.